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Rohingya Muslims are silhouetted against the dusk sky in a refugee camp on, Nov. 24, 2017, in Bangladesh.
Wong Maye-E/AP
Girls & Women

Girls as Young as 12 Married to Older Men in Worsening Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled Myanmar on foot since late August, walking days, sometimes weeks, to reach Bangladesh. Many arrived at refugee camps malnourished and hungry.

In fact, families are so desperate to feed their children and reduce the number of mouths they have to feed that they are marrying their young daughters off, the Guardian reported.

“I have no father and I was a great burden on my mother so it’s better I got married,” a 14-year-old girl who was married three weeks after she arrived in the camp told the Guardian. “Of course if my mother had the ability to feed me I would be happy to stay single.”

The World Food Program allocates food to households — 25kg of rice every two weeks — based on an average family size of five. However, many families are larger.

Motivated by hunger and insufficient food, some parents have started marrying off children, some as young as 12, so they will form new households and receive rations of their own, according to the Guardian.

Take Action: Tell world leaders to stop child marriage for good

In situations of conflict and insecurity, child marriage often increases in affected communities, according to the NGO Girls Not Brides. Incidences of child marriage have increased among Syrian refugee girls in both Jordan and Lebanon and in South Sudan, which is still in the midst of a civil war.

More than 620,000 Rohingya muslims, according to the United Nations, have become refugees since the Burmese military began “clearing operations” on Aug. 25.

Read more: Timeline: How the Rohingya Crisis Unfolded in Myanmar

Crossing the border into neighboring Bangladesh, most now live in overflowing camps in the Kutupalong refugee camp in the southeast of Bangladesh. There they joined hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who were forced out of Myanmar during previous bouts of violence; some have lived in the camp for decades.

Of the Rohingya girls who fled to India, Malaysia, and Indonesia after violence erupted in 2012, the UN Refugee Agency found that 60% were married before they turned 18.

Global Citizen campaigns for freedom, for justice, for all. No child should be forced into marriage, and you can take action here to protect girls against this abuse of their rights.

By September, UN officials were already warning that the Rohingya children who had recently arrived in the Bangladesh’s camps, especially those who were unaccompanied, were at great risk of being trafficked or forced into marriages.

Read more: Traffickers Are Preying on Rohingya Children in Bangladesh Camps

Early marriage is a common cultural practice in Rohingya communities, the Guardian reported, but many Rohingya child brides told the Guardian that food rations had become a key motivating factor in early marriage decisions in the camp.

“We have 10 family members in total, seven daughters, and we get 25kg of rice [every two weeks],” Muhammad Hassen told the Guardian. “This is not enough for a family of 10.” 

Hassen has recently arranged a marriage for his 14-year-old daughter.

“Of course if I’d stayed in Rakhine I would wait to marry my daughter. I was a farmer with three acres of land. I [would have fed her] with what I have in my house or extended family and neighbours would help,” Hassen said. “Here we can’t do that.”